17 May 2022

EXPLAINER: What is a Covid-19 'social support bubble' and who can have one?

EXPLAINER: What is a Covid-19 'social support bubble' and who can have one?

EXPLAINER: What is a Covid-19 'social support bubble' and who can have one?

One of the biggest changes to restrictions as the country moves to Level 5 lockdown is the concept of a 'social support bubble' which has been added to the Living With Covid-19 plan.

The new lockdown was announced on Monday evening by Taoiseach Micheal Martin.

The new plan states: "There will be the concept of an extended household (or support bubble) for defined categories of individuals to support those at risk of social isolation and/or mental ill-health."

So how does social support bubble work?

This new concept is aimed at older people and other single-adult households where an elderly person or single parent may be living alone or with young children. These households will be able to 'buddy up' with another household and essentially become one household. The bubble will be exclusive so people may not change their bubble members day to day or week to week.

This decision has been made to reduce the impact of the Level 5 ban on household visits for vulnerable groups. For regular households, visits will not be permitted. There will be other exceptions to this visit ban on the grounds of compassion or care needs.

Social bubbles will be considered a single household so if your elderly parent living alone forms a bubble with your household, you will collectively be treated as one household. That means that if one member of the bubble displays Covid-19 symptoms, all members of the bubble or extended household must self-isolate prevent further spread. 

When asked if the 5km travel limit applies to the social support bubble concept, Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Mary Butler said: "No, essential travel outside 5km includes caring for the elderly, visiting those that live alone, visiting a grave, attending medical appointments."

The support bubble concept has been used in other countries including to good effect in New Zealand to help stave off the effects of social isolation. 

Speaking on RTE television's Claire Byrne Live Show on Monday night, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly insisted the bubble system is targeted at single-adult households and those not mean other households can pair up with each other for non-essential social interactions.


Who can form a support bubble?

You can form a support bubble with another household in any of the following situations:

- if you are living alone with children under the age of 18
- if you live alone and have mental health challenges
- if you share parenting or custody arrangements
- if you live with a partner who has dementia (needs full-time care)
- if you live by yourself and have a carer or carers who support you

How to form your support bubble?

Support bubbles are designed to help you if you live on your own. You can only form a support bubble with one other household if they are not already part of a support bubble.

Wherever possible, you should choose a household in your locality to form your support bubble, but it can be outside the 5-kilometre limit.

The reason for this is to prevent the spread of COVID-19 between areas that might have lots of cases and ones that have low numbers of cases.

What to do if someone in your support bubble develops symptoms of COVID-19 or tests positive?

If anyone in your support bubble develops symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19, follow the stay at home guidance. This helps control the virus as it stops the virus from spreading across multiple households.

If you or someone in your support bubble is contacted by the HSE or your local Department of Public Health, you should follow their guidance.

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